Embattled Gaymard to tell his tale on French TV

25th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 25 (AFP) - The political fate of French Finance Minister Herve Gaymard hung in the balance Friday as he prepared to appear on television to give his version of a scandal over his state-paid Paris apartment.

PARIS, Feb 25 (AFP) - The political fate of French Finance Minister Herve Gaymard hung in the balance Friday as he prepared to appear on television to give his version of a scandal over his state-paid Paris apartment.

Gaymard, a close ally of President Jacques Chirac who took over at the ministry in November, was scheduled to be interviewed on the main evening news on the private TF1 channel at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT).

On Thursday evening Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin made it clear that he expects Gaymard to speak publicly on the affair, which centres on a 600 square-metre (nearly 6,500 square-foot) flat off the Champs Elysees where he was housed at a cost to the public purse of EUR 14,000 (USD 18,500) a month.

"Matignon (the prime minister's office) stresses that it is up to the minister ... to determine the conditions and the moment for providing the detailed answers to the questions which may be asked over his apartment," his office said in a statement.

Speaking anonymously, government sources told AFP Friday that no outcome was being ruled out - indicating that Gaymard's television appearance may be a last opportunity to salvage his reputation.

The 44-year-old minister has refused to resign - describing himself as "as clean as a new penny" - but even close supporters admitted he is fighting for his political survival.

"The fate of Herve Gaymard is 'hanging by a thread'," said the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, which normally backs the government.

"By asking him to explain himself and bring the controversy to a close, Matignon can claim to be offering him a last chance. But this reprieve ... could also be a way of giving him time to agree to what is now in the eyes of many inevitable," it said.

The initial scandal appeared to die away after Gaymard - a fervent Catholic who has eight children - agreed to move out of the apartment into smaller accommodation at his ministry.

But it burst open again with a report this week in the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine that the minister has from the start owned a 200 square-metre apartment in central Paris which he has been renting out for EUR 2,300 a month.

The minister compounded his embarrassment by giving an interview to Paris-Match magazine in which he implied that as a man of humble origins he had no independent means to house his family.

"I have always lived humbly. I do not have money. Obviously if I wasn't the son of a shoemaker, if I was a member of the bourgeoisie, I wouldn't have any housing problem. I would own my own apartment and we wouldn't have this affair," he said.

"Does one have to be the son of a bourgeois or from a rich family in order to work in politics or be a minister?" he asked.

The left-wing newspaper Liberation piled on the pressure Friday, reporting that Gaymard also owns a house in Brittany, as well as two apartments, offices and a house in his home in the Alpine department of Savoie.

Supporters of the government concede that the scandal has had a disastrous effect, at a time when it is official policy to cut state expenditure and when the difficulties of finding affordable accommodation are at the top of the public's concerns.

Francois Bayrou, head of Raffarin's coalition partner the Union for French Democracy, said Friday that Gaymard's resignation appeared inevitable.

"You can see an unavoidable scenario playing itself out. (Gaymard's) credibility, his peace of mind and his image are all compromised," he said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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